Accurate perceptions of the world — whether considered in political terms (Black Sunlight) of in general psychological terms (The House of Hunger, The Alley) requires great mental strength. Madness is the polar opposite to mental strength. It denies and destroys the integrity of insight. How come then, there is so much insight in Marechera’s work (when properly understood in the correct cultural light)?
Upon such strong premises rest my entire Marechera thesis.
More supporting premises:
— The issue of “inner exile” is a post-colonial one.
— Untreated PTSD tends to generalise (become worse)
— The organic relationship between madness and sanity is not a linear and transparent one, but looks rather more like the infinity sign, with extreme forms of rationality devolving into a kind of madness (civilisation and its discontents) and certain kinds of detachment from the world representing a purer state of consciousness.
— Zimbabwean versus Western cultural differences can make some of Marechera’s writing inaccessible to those of a Westernised consciousness.
Here are some differences that form the basis for differing transcultural assumptions (and possible misunderstandings of the writer by his Western readers):
* The intensity of the life and death struggle to move up and away from tribalism and its dirt and grit is not necessarily understood by those of other cultures who romanticise tribal life.
* Zimbabwe is a culture strongly influenced by militarism and by a certain respect for things warrior-like, even after the demise of the colonial regime.
* Superstition and notions of witchcraft still play a high part in Zimbabwean culture — even white parts of the culture, to a degree. So, the mood that Marechera conjures up in BLACK SUNLIGHT (of black magic at work) may not be felt so intensely and with such aesthetic reverberations by one brought up in a more rationalist culture. (I felt it, however.)
* Christianity is still very alive as an ideology in Zimbabwe
* Hardship (economic and social) is conceptualised differently in a third world culture like Zimbabwe. It has become de rigueur.
* The legacy of the war (2nd chimurenga) left a whole generation of people who experienced it with varying degrees of emotional damage.
* Social privilege is conceptualised differently in Zimbabwe — and prejudice and discrimination has somewhat of a different emphasis that it does in the West. It has more of a tribal and class flavour, rather than being a clear-cut matter of skin colour.
* Educational level is a strong sign of class in Zimbabwe.
* The mind-body dualism of Zimbabwean culture has less to do with Morality and maintaining one’s purity by keeping mind and body distinct (as it seems to have to do with, in the traditions of the West). In Zimbabwe, the distinction is more one of Spiritism.
* The mood of fear and dread that Marechera so effectively plays up in his work, is part of a Zimbabwean cultural atmosphere. It relates to a psychological feeling of magic (childlike sensations of belief) as well as to more stridently superstitious notions of witchcraft.
* In Zimbabwe, there is a strong tradition of moral criticism directed towards one’s leaders and other prominent figures. Zimbabwe is a society of ideological consensus reached through the grapevine (a kind of oral history-making).
* Violence, in Zimbabwe, is not a cultural aberration. It has become the norm.
Another point of cultural differences that must be addressed:
In Western society, the implicit and expected cultural narrative structure for an individual’s life is that of the happy ending. Anything else is perceived as marked deviance, which cries out for an explanation. Another Western cultural myth: greater intelligence than usual, as well as greater social sensitivity than usual and considered to be factors predisposing one towards the happy ending. A lack of a happy ending to one’s life is considered grounds for raising justifiable suspicions against one’s intelligence and the merits of one’s character in general. This assumption, too, is culturally Western.
Another level of understanding that may be missing from the awareness of any reader who is not cross-cultural in the appropriate sense is the quality of finessing of emotional states that is always present in Marechera’s work.
The use of Western poetic and literary tropes is rarely arbitrary, but rather there can often be found a relation between the moods evoked by certain Western literary tropes — eg Percy Shelley and the daemonic — and certain culturally African moods. Marechera’s poetry and prose often relies upon invoking such transcultural moods through the reader’s own subjective awareness and learnedness.